Schools as enabling spaces for the improvement of quality of life for primary school children living in rural South Africa

The University of Pretoria is leading a project to help children in poverty thrive in school and beyond. Liesel Ebersöhn (Director: Centre for the Study of Resilience) and Qing Gu (Director: London Centre for Leadership in Learning) co-lead the study in collaboration with the UCL Institute of Education, the UCL Institute for Global Health, and London South Bank University, are working on the project to improve learning and health-related quality of life for primary school children in South Africa’s rural communities.

In South Africa, 38% of children live in rural communities. They are much more likely to be deprived of opportunities for quality education and quality of life than those less disadvantaged.

This new mixed methods study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), brings together experts in education, health, psychology, sociology, and health economics to investigate how schools can be organised as enabling spaces to improve children’s learning and health.

It will focus on children aged 6-9 as early interventions in this critical period of transition from early childhood to middle childhood can make a significant impact on people’s long-term outcomes.

The project will start with a systematic review and interviews with officials from local and national government organisations and non-governmental public bodies to assess evidence and policy reports over the past three decades. This assessment will identify new evidence in the key education, health and policy areas where intervention programmes have shown the potential of being most effective in improving children's achievement and health-related quality of life in the short, medium and long term.

The results will help the team to develop a systems-oriented intervention that strengthens schools’ organisational and professional capacities to enhance children’s education and development in socioeconomically disadvantaged rural communities.

18 rural primary schools will be part of an initial six-month pilot analysing how different intervention tasks work and to what degree school and community contexts impact this. The interventions will then be refined and scaled up in 58 rural primary schools, with the researchers continuing to examine the extent of change in schools' capacities and capabilities and how such change has impacted on children's learning and health outcomes.

The Centre’s Director, and Co-lead on the project said, “By examining how schools may be(come) enabling spaces to promote whole-child quality education (SDG4), and through this, transform the health-related quality of life for children and adults (SDG3) in rural communities in South Africa, the research will make a timely contribution to understandings of how different sectors may work more effectively with schools to unlock the transformative power of education for the achievement of the other 2030 SDGs systemically and sustainably.

The ESRC Core Team

Prof Liesel Ebersöhn

Prof Liesel Ebersöhn is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Resilience and a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology in the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria and a registered educational psychologist. An NRF-rated researcher and current Secretary-General of the World Education Research Association (WERA), Liesel is an expert on social dimensions of resilience with extensive experience in intervention research on transdisciplinary resilience-enabling pathways to positive health and wellbeing outcomes in severely challenged Southern African spaces. She is engaged in high-level global education and poverty think tanks, panels and boards, is influential in Global South education development circles and actively supports education policy reform in the Global South based on evidence of resilience-enabling transformation in Africa. She is a recipient of numerous scientific association, national and institutional awards.

Liz-Marie Basson

Ms. Basson is a registered Research Psychologist at the Health Professions Council of South Africa with a Masters in Research Psychology from the University of Pretoria (UP). Her involvement in this project is three-fold: assistance with grant and project management, researcher and PhD student focussing on rural community, sustainable development and the capability approach. Ms. Basson was trained in systematic reviews at the Pennsylvania State University in 2019 during a fully-funded research visit. She has a background in research grant management where she worked at the University of Pretoria’s research office and at the Centre for the Study of Viral Zoonoses (CVZ) at UP for four years. She completed a research psychology internship at the Itsoseng clinic, UP.

Marike de la Rey 

Marike holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the University of Pretoria (UP) and is a registered minister at the Dutch Reformed Church. After her postgraduate studies, she obtained a Diploma in Pastoral Narrative Therapy from Coram Deo. Her academic pursuit lies within Narrative work, with a particular passion for the perceptual subjectivity created by cultural folklore and the resultant effect this brings about in society. Marike is currently a senior research assistant at the Centre for the Study of Resilience (UP).

Monique Oosthuizen

Miss. Oosthuizen holds an Honours degree in Education majoring in Learning Support from the University of Pretoria. Her background as a teacher working in both rural and urban schools provide her with an advantage in understanding the demands faced by both teachers and learners in challenging contexts. She hopes to obtain her Masters Degree in Learning Support Guidance and Counselling and currently works at the Centre for the Study of Resilience as an intern and a Senior Research Assistant in The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) team.

Princess Mabota-Rapholo

Princess has extensive research experience in the community focusing on TB and HIV. She previously participated in a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) pilot study on the provision of psychosocial support for patients with Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (DR-TB). The study was piloted in South Africa, China, Pakistan and Ukraine. In addition, she designed are search study on the well-being of HIV counselling and testing counsellors as part of her MA degree studies. She also participated in the Kgolo Mmogo Research Project, a collaborative study between the University of Pretoria and Yale University on the resilience of HIV-positive mothers and their children. She has worked with the Department of Health at various levels in policy and programme development, management and evaluation. Princess holds a Master of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Pretoria and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Georgia State University.

Kanye Rampa

Ms. Kanye Rampa is an experienced innovation mobilization practitioner, having spent her career in research actualization roles both locally and internationally in the fields of ICT, Rural Development, Renewable Energy, E-Learning, Smart Cities and as well as Health. Functional expertise include development and implementation of technology management processes, development and implementation of organization-wide RD&I strategy, Monitoring & Evaluation of technology initiatives, as well as innovation management.

She holds a MA in Environment Development & Policy and a MSc in Technology and Innovation Management from Sussex University. Her passion is to promote  participation of ordinary people in Research Development and Innovation (RD&I). So far she has achieved this by publishing some of her research as well as representing Sub-Saharan Africa on ICT policy forums. Outside of the seriousness of work, Kanye enjoys outdoor sporting activities such as hiking, reading picnics and Yoga.


National and International Collaborators

Professor Qing Gu, Professor of Leadership in Education and Director of the
University College London Centre for Educational Leadership at the University
College London Institute of Education

Professor Patrick Callaghan, Dean of the School of Applied Sciences and
Professor of Mental Health Science, London South Bank University

Professor Lynn Ang, Professor of Early Childhood, Pro-Director and Vice-Dean
Research at University College London Institute of Education, Head of the
Department of Learning and Leadership

Professor Mahlapahlapana Johannes Themane, Acting Head of Department:
Education Studies at the University of Limpopo

Professor Martin Mills, School of Teacher Education and Leadership I Faculty of
Creative Industries, Education and Social Justice. The Queensland University of
Technology, Brisbane, Australia

Doctor Rupert Higham, Associate Professor in Educational Leadership, University College London Institute
of Education Programme Leader, Research Network Coordinator, University College
London Centre for Educational Leadership

Professor Jolene Skordis, Professor of Economics, Vice-Dean (International):
Faculty of Population Health Sciences, Director: University College London Centre
for Global Health Economics

Doctor Hannelie du Preez, Education Support Centre, Wageningen University & Research

Professor Peet du Toit, Associate Professor, Department of Physiology, School of
Medicine, University of Pretoria

Doctor Huiming Ding, Research Fellow, University College London

Mr Gerard Joseph Abou Jaoude, Research Fellow at the University College
London Institute for Global Health and Fellow at the University College London
Centre for Global Health Economics.

Published by Monique Oosthuizen

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